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Red Hat on the Cusp of Major Linux Clearance

Red Hat is on the verge of completing a crucial certification process that could help it extend the tendrils of its enterprise Linux operating system further in the government sector, where multi-billion dollar budgets abound.

The Raleigh, N.C. maker of open-source software said its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 is poised to meet Evaluated Assurance Level 2 (EAL 2) under the Common Criteria Scheme by the end of the month. Required for organizations such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and National Security Administration (NSA) to use operating system software, the Common Criteria Scheme tests security and gauges development processes.

Red Hat spokeswoman Leigh Day told internetnews.com that the certification would give Red Hat "license to hunt" for customers in the government space. Day said Red Hat hopes the CCR process, which tests security and gauges development processes, will push further Linux into the mainstream.

Open Source Development Lab Principal Stacey Quandt said Red Hat is already making a dent in government markets, noting that Advanced Server 1.2 distribution became the first Linux operating system to obtain the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency's (DISA) Common Operating Environment (COE) certification.

"The pending announcement of EAL 2 certification will enable government agencies to move ahead with official Linux procurement," Quandt told internetnews.com. "This closes the gap between Red Hat's Linux Advanced Server and other operating systems that have already achieved this level of certification."

Red Hat has partnered with database software maker Oracle in this endeavor. The two vendors began pushing Red Hat Linux Advanced Server for EAL 2 last February. Both companies are working to have Red Hat's software and Oracle's software certified under the Common Criteria at EAL 4.

"The wider implication is the support of Oracle to fund Red Hat's EAL certification which will enable government agencies to officially migrate Oracle workloads from Windows or Unix to Linux," Quandt added.

To be sure, other operating systems remain ahead of Red Hat's software in the certification process. SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 running on IBM's xSeries servers reached EAL 2 in August while Microsoft Windows 2000 is already at EAL 4, along with Sun Microsystems' Solaris, IBM's AIX and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX.

Still, the news bodes well for Red Hat, which was given COE certification Tuesday by the DOD. COE measures interoperability, security and standards compliance.

"This is another milestone in our move to have a fully-standards based operating system that is available to be deployed in governments. The DOD could buy Red Hat Linux 3 today," Day said.

She also said Red Hat expects to achieve EAL 3 certification in 2004, which will mean that additional product capabilities and processes will be tested for security and reliability in the hopes that Red Hat will be adopted even more broadly by the DOD and intelligence community.

The news would be welcome for Red Hat, the number one distributor of Linux. With this certification, Red Hat can more effectively aim for traction in a space where Microsoft and several others have been dominant. Governments often require large amounts of computing resources and have the cash to spend on them.

Day said Red Hat will formally announce the achievement of the evaluation later this month.

In other Red Hat news, the company introduced new Linux software packages for the academic community in a continuation of its effort to spread the gospel of Linux.

Day said two types of subscriptions are available: Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS (Academic Edition) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS (Academic Edition). Linux WS includes the operating platform and personal productivity applications and is geared for desktop use. An annual subscription for this package is $25 per user, which is lower than the $199 it would cost outside the academic realm.

Linux AS provides a platform for applications such as network infrastructure, web hosting, and High Performance Computing (HPC) server farms. This costs $50 per user per year, significantly lower than the non-academic price of $499.

In an "all-you-can-eat scenario," Day said academic institutions may purchase a site subscription for an entire student body, group of departments, or school system. A Basic Package, priced at $2500 per person per year, includes unlimited service subscriptions to Linux WS for all systems personally owned by students, faculty and staff and a Red Hat Network Proxy Server (Academic Edition) and Red Hat Network management software.

These Linux packages are available immediately in the United States and will roll out in other markets soon.